SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop says Utah and especially Hill Air Force Base could play a key role in President Donald Trump's newly announced plans for a Space Force.
"The fact that Utah has been a prime player in space and the aerospace industry and space exploration for so long simply means we have a lot of expertise here in the state that I'm pretty sure will probably be exploited and used," the Utah Republican said Thursday.
Bishop, whose district includes Hill, said he has yet to be sold on the need to create a new branch of the military to defend the United States in space, currently the responsibility of the Air Force.
"Personally, I still believe the Air Force would be well-qualified to be the lead agency," Bishop said. But he said he is willing to consider the administration's proposal, noting space defense is not a new topic.
"I've seen a lot of comments about people wanting to join the Space Force as if this was some sort of quixotic, strange new idea, like somebody had just seen an episode of 'Star Trek,'" Bishop said. "It's not."
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Utah "leads the nation in aerospace technology development," according to the Governor's Office of Economic Development, with programs at Hill and military testing at Dugway Proving Ground and other facilities.
The office also cites major defense contractors, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, that are operating in the state, creating an aerospace industry that employs more than 31,000 people.
Bishop said the intercontinental ballistic missile assembly and maintenance work done at Hill Air Force Base could end up being part of what would be the sixth branch of the military under the proposal detailed Thursday by Vice President Mike Pence.
"That is one of those things that is Hill's ace-in-the-hole," Bishop said, because trying to replicate the base's ICBM facilities somewhere else would be cost prohibitive. "You could take it from Hill, but not cheaply or logically."